Literary Analysis Of The Interlopers By Saki
What would you choose – fight for your family’s honour, or end a legacy of revenge? The short story “The Interlopers” by Saki is about a generations-old feud between the Gradwitz and Znaeym families, over a strip of forest land on the eastern spurs of the Carpathians. In the beginning, Ulrich Von Gradwitz patrols the land in quest of Georg Znaeym, “the inheritor of the quarrel and the tireless game snatcher and raider of the disputed border forest” (Saki 83). Strangely enough, on this dark winter night, the two men come face to face, however, before either of the men could open fire, a large branch of beech tree comes falling on them, leaving them stretched on the ground, helpless. The men realize the pointlessness of continuing their feud under such brutal circumstances and end up making amends and reconciling their differences. Despite their compromise, when the men join their voices to call for help, it is a pack of wolves that answers instead of their men. In the end, it is the two men’s greed and quest for revenge that leads them to their downfall. “Nature’s own violence overwhelmed them both”, and the author proves that the land was neither Gradwitz’ or Znaeyms’ to claim through his use of irony, foreshadowing and theme.
The major literary device used to establish the conflict in “The Interlopers” is irony; the difference between what appears to be and what is true. The main instance of irony occurs when the men die shortly after ending the feud that had endured amongst the families for three generations. They finally realize “that there are better things in life than getting the better of a boundary dispute”, only to die moments later with nothing to take with them. This is an example of situational irony because the outcome drastically differs from what is expected of the readers. The families had quarrelled for centuries with no settlement, and when they finally bring closure to their feud, it is assumed that the mood will lighten; however, in an ironic twist, the men become prey to wolves. Ultimately, neither men have ownership of the land. Another example of irony occurs when a lifetime of battles between Ulrich and Gradwitz ends when the subject of their feud becomes the cause of their death. When Ulrich and Gradwitz come face to face in the forest, they are both reluctant to initiate violence under the code of a restraining civilization. As a result, ‘before the moment of hesitation had given way to action’ (Saki 84), a branch of beech tree plunges down on them. The strip of forest, that had harboured the beech tree and had, ironically, been the premise of the men’s conflict, entraps them both, leaving them prey to wolves. The final instance of irony is how Ulrich’s and Gradwitz’ decision to call for help, in hopes that their parties would save them, is instead answered by a pack of wolves. They had ‘each prayed a private prayer that his men might be first to arrive’ (Saki 88), unfortunately, when they see indistinct figures coming through the woods, they realize quickly that it was not their men, but a pack of wolves. The author creates suspense by describing the figures running down the hill towards them and the characters anticipating their parties arriving, only for them to finally recognise that their prayers had not been answered. Therefore, the author uses situational irony or the difference between what appears to and what is true to cause the reader to be surprised by the unexpected events.
Saki uses foreshadowing to help create suspense and build anticipation for what might happen later in the story. Primarily, the author’s setting hints at whether the forthcoming events will be adverse or fortunate. In this story, we are first introduced to the setting on a winter night somewhere on the Eastern spurs of the Carpathians, where Gradwitz stood waiting ‘for some beast of the woods to come within range of his vision and later his rifle’ (Saki 82). The author’s description of the forest being precipitous and dark, as well as his illustration of Gradwitz watching and listening attentively, suggests that there is a sense of danger in the forest. Otherwise speaking, the author uses a dark and gloomy setting to imply that bad fortune would follow. Another use of foreshadowing is how Saki makes subtle but deliberate references to objects in their environment, in an effort to demonstrate that they might play a significant role later on in the plot. For example, Saki describes there being “movement and unrest among the creatures that were wont to sleep through the dark hours’ (Saki 83). The deer and restlessness amongst the creatures signifies the presence of predators and adds a disturbing element to the setting. This shows that the author makes subtle references to the predators to demonstrate to the reader that this would be a critical element in the conflict. The final use of foreshadowing in the story “The Interlopers” occurs after the men make amends. As readers we interpret the men’s reconciliation as a resolution to the main conflict. This is because in a typical plot diagram with an introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, and finally, conclusion, the falling tree would be considered the climax, and the men’s reconciliation would be considered the falling action. However, despite resolving their feud, the setting remained cold and gloomy, “with the wind tearing in fitful gusts through the naked branches and whistling round the tree trunks” (Saki 87). This hints at the inevitable tragedy that will be inflicted upon the men at the end of the story. With this, Saki uses foreshadowing to hint at the grim and dark theme, and the catastrophic events that await the two men.
The theme of the short story “The Interlopers’ is that too often, people waste their lives focused on aimless disputes. The first reason why I believe so is because in the beginning of the story, Saki states that “a long series of poaching affrays and similar scandals had embittered the relationships between the families for three generations” (Saki 82-83). The story focuses on the two mens thirst for each other’s blood, gathering their foresters in search of thieves that were expected to be invading the forest that night. However, with all this effort and devise, both men later become prey to wolves. Therefore, the men spend their lives focusing on a battle that has no significance to either of them in the end. Another reason why I believe the theme of the story is that people waste their lives focusing on aimless disputes, is because the subject of their feud becomes the cause of their death. Both men seek one another in belief that the other is an interloper on their land. However, when nature conquers them both with “a mass of failing beech tree [thundering] down on them” (Saki 84), they decide that they would dominate the land together and jointly take ownership of the trees and animals within it. However, when a pack of wolves appear over the hillside, it appears that neither of the men would be recognised as rightful owners of the natural land. Therefore, the true interlopers are both the men, because without their intrusion, the land would be otherwise undisturbed. The final reason for why I believe the theme is that people spend their lives focused on aimless disputes, is because both Ulrich and Gradwitz take nothing with them when they die. Ulrich realizes that they had been fools arguing all their lives for the meaningless piece of land, and that “there [were] better things in life than getting the better of a boundary dispute”. However, despite eventually coming to this realization, both men die moments later. Thus, they had wasted their entire lives quarrelling, without making any meaningful or significant accomplishments in their lifetime. Overall, the insignificance of the boundary dispute and the two men’s downfall, proves that often people waste their lives focused on aimless disputes.
Through the use of foreshadowing, irony, and theme Saki conveys that the land was neither Ulrich’s or Gradwitz’ to claim. Through the use of irony, the author displays nature, the subject of the feud, conquering the men, leaving them both to die with no ownership. Through the use of foreshadowing, the dark mood and atmosphere is established, and we are introduced to objects that are of significance to the plot. Through the theme, the author expresses that often people waste their lives focusing on senseless disputes. It is my belief that through these literary devices, the author is trying to convey that since life is so short, we should spend our lives focused on purposeful things, and we should recognise that when we die, our life’s worth will not be measured by our possessions.
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